Ask These 3 Questions Before You Book Activities for Kids

The following is a guest post from Keith, a fellow dad of five who also lives in a condo in downtown Vancouver. Our families have become good friends since they moved to Vancouver from a house in Alberta. I have great respect for Keith and his partner for the intentional approach they take to raising five kids in the city.

In that vein below, Keith writes about a topic I ponder often: how do you approach facilitating activities for five kids, while still maintaining family harmony?

Having five children, one of the questions that gets asked of us is, “What do you do with all of them?” After all, today’s North American parenting culture dictates we run ourselves ragged getting kids from this to that, day after day, week after week. Kids are “over-scheduled” by “helicopter” parents.

So when my wife and I tell people that we have five children, their knees buckle as they consider all that we must do in order to keep up with the “normal” pace that kids these days keep.

But we don’t keep this pace.

We have taken the approach that, when it comes to activities and pursuits for our children, we do not have to maintain this cultural norm. We don’t put our kids into every last thing that we can get them into because we would like to, overall, save time, money, energy, and thought. Time is saved in order to spend it with each other and on those activities that are enjoyed most. Money is saved by properly considering if an activity’s cost is justified. Energy is saved by consciously avoiding over-scheduling and developing the ability to say, “No.” Thought is saved by being able to stop and process all that we are involved in, rather than frantically thinking about the next thing that one of the kids need to get to.

The Boschman kids check out jellyfish at the Vancouver Aquarium.

The Boschman kids check out jellyfish at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Yet, our children still do a variety of activities. Here are some (but certainly not all) of the questions that we consider when we are thinking about involving one, some, or all of our children in a particular activity:

Does the activity give consideration to the family or just the individual child?
This question asks what is going to be the overall impact on the family. You may already be objecting to this consideration because our culture has developed a sense that if you are not providing meaningful experiences for your children, then you are missing the mark as a parent. But living in a family, and also a culture or society, means that relationships play an important part in making a decision. My wife and I are not going to encourage an activity that does not contribute to the overall tone and relational dynamics of our family as a whole.

Also consider what the over-scheduling does to a child’s perception of themselves. There is a sense that when your child’s dance class or sports practice trumps all that is happening in the daily or weekly life of the family, that the child can grow a sort of self-centred attitude and believe the world (at least the family’s world) revolves around them. If this attitude is not challenged, this child grows into the sort of person that believes the larger society around him or her exists to serve their needs exclusively. They will become miserable and frustrated and others around them will feel the same because this person has not developed empathy or consideration for the needs of others.

I want my children to participate in activities with the understanding that there are others around them that need to be considered. If there are family needs that  necessitate missing a day of this or an hour of that, then they need to be OK with that, for the sake of the relationships that they are involved in. Our hope is that translates into consideration of other relationships that they develop as they grow older.

Adrian's family takes in-house ukulele lessons to give some kids a chance to learn an instrument without disrupting the schedules of the others.

Adrian’s family takes in-house ukulele lessons to give some kids a chance to learn an instrument without disrupting the schedules of the others.

Does the activity develop lifelong meaningful skills or niche short term abilities?
I can remember doing badminton practice two or three times per week when the season was on. My life bent for it and my parents’ lives bent for it as well because this was an activity that was important to me. So many years later, my ability to return the badminton birdie with a wobbly backhand does not serve me well.

Contrast this with my time participating in Model United Nations, where I prepared speeches and debated on subjects that related to the global scene. What is more, I was required to take on a particular country’s world view, regardless of my own particular thoughts on the resolution. This ensured I could approach a problem from different angles and consider other people’s point of view. People would also challenge me as I delivered my points arguing for or against something. I needed to be able to think quickly to address the question being brought.

All of these skills have translated into something tangible that I can use in my life and work today. I want my children to be involved in activities that can develop these sorts of lifelong skills.

In-home lessons, such as the cooking lessons Adrian's kids take, are a great way to facilitate activities without stressing out parents or other kids.

In-home lessons, such as the cooking lessons Adrian’s kids take, are a great way to facilitate activities without stressing out parents or other kids.

Does the activity break the budget or justify the cost?
There was a time when I was young when I asked my parents to play hockey. “It costs too much,” was the succinct reply. After some sulking about the injustice of it, I came to accept that there may be some limits to what I would like to do. Simply having a desire to do something does not make it responsible or realistic to do. This is not to say that we only place our kids in free events or activities. Instead, we try to understand if the activity justifies the cost. Does it uphold our values as a family? Does it encourage community? Is it a good opportunity to get to know others or develop character?

So there are times when we tell our children, “No” because that activity does not fit our budget or that the activity is simply too much of a cost for what it is. My hope is that they can avoid heaping on debt in their adult life because they felt entitled to pursue whatever “thing” sparked their intrigue and they justified the decision to put it on a credit card. Instead, I would hope that they consider carefully if the activity or pursuit is worth the cost and budget accordingly for the cost.

By asking some of these questions, we are able to come to a good conclusion, one way or the other. Often times, like in adult life as well, doing as many things as you possibly can, even if they are good things to do, does not necessarily translate into a more fulfilling life. We want our children to discover opportunities and do things that will help them develop character, foster empathy, and hone lifelong skills.

Saying, “No” to some things is a necessary piece of this puzzle that our family is putting together.

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Adrian Crook is a father of five living in beautiful downtown Vancouver, Canada. When he's not mobbed by his brood, he runs a successful videogame design consulting business.
  • Obstinate

    Adrian, these have been incredibly helpful articles. My wife and I are downsizing from a 2,500 sqft house in an expensive, un-walkable suburb into a two or three bedroom apartment in a very walkable city. I’ll be keeping your ideas in mind as we do that.

    • Thanks so much! Glad to hear you’re making the move. You won’t regret it!

  • kmc

    I think that your point about sacrificing the family’s well-being to pursue one individual’s activity has another nuance to it, and that is that it reinforces a message of self-centeredness that is a very empty one. It doesn’t just tell the kid that their interests are more important; it tells the kid that activities are more important than quality of life, so that they themselves feel compelled to put their activities over their family’s well-being and their own well-being, and it’s one reason that we as Americans (and I’m guessing you feel similarly about Canadian society) are so bad at maintaining a personal identity separate from our jobs and online forum presences.

    • Very good point re identity. Hadn’t occurred to me. And yes, Canadian society is the same in that respect to the US. The Western world is pretty obsessed with “what we do” being “who we are” – which, while part of who we are, is not everything.

  • Smile

    Great point about discerning which activities have the potential to “… develop lifelong meaningful skills” vs. “niche short term abilities?”
    Definitely something we will keep in mind as our son grows.